Open justice: forging the digital path ahead

In a nice bit of serendipity, I discovered yesterday that the Centre for Law, Justice and Journalism’s ‘Justice Wide Open‘ event on 29 February will fall in ‘Open Justice Week’, a new initiative led by James Doleman, of the Tommy Sheridan trial blog, and the Scottish Press Club and Glasgow court reporter Cristiana Theodoli.

Their ‘Open Justice UK‘ project, which will go live on Monday 27 February, aims “to get writers, legal professionals and members of the public to collaborate using social media to share their experiences of a week in the life of the legal system”.

Our goal is to publish accounts from all levels of justice, from the lowest courts to the highest, inviting lawyers, journalists, members of the public and offenders to write, blog and tweet about what really goes on in our courts.

Guardian Law supported the project in an editorial yesterday,

The project is not without difficulties. Participants need training in how to avoid contempt of court, which some lawyers have offered to provide. Some Scottish courts lack a phone signal, let alone decent Wi-Fi. Judges may have reservations. Professional court reporters know that their job demands skill and care. But peering into the workings of the justice system is a necessary task, and we wish the project every success.

Open Justice UK is on Twitter @oj_UK and has a Facebook group here. It strikes me as a really useful exercise and I look forward to participating/following.

As the Guardian says, there will be difficulties ahead for the digital court reporter. While excited about the future for ‘digital open justice’, I’m also keenly aware of the ethical and legal dilemmas it brings.

For example, is it always appropriate to allow live-tweeting in court? If so, should more guidance and resources be made available to both journalists and the general public? I shared the discomfort of some tweeters about live tweets from the Gary Speed inquest and reflected on whether they met the PCC’s criteria for reporting inquests. The tweets I saw did not seem to divulge any more detail than the subsequent press reports but nonetheless, I felt myself agreeing with the Mirror’s Jim Shelley who said: “Who amongst us really needs ‘live updates’ from #garyspeedinquest?”

From a legal perspective, contempt of court poses the biggest challenge: last week tweeting was banned in the Harry Redknapp trial at Southwark Crown Court, after a journalist tweeted the name of a juror and about evidence given by a witness under oath in the absence of the jury – the matter has now been referred to the Attorney General, according to Legal Week.

‘Open Justice Week’ could provide a good platform to discuss these and other issues, as well as an opportunity to come up with new ideas and strategies for the development of digital open justice.

Our coincidentally but aptly timed Justice Wide Open event at City University is now fully booked, but you can join the waiting list here.

It will feature a specific session on court reporting (with Heather Brooke, journalist and activist; Mr Mike Dodd, editor of PA Media Lawyer; Adam Wagner, barrister, One Crown Office Row and editor of the UK Human Rights Blog, William Perrin, founder, Talk About Local and member of the Crime and Justice Sector Panel on Transparency).  We’ll be tweeting and blogging the event, as well as publishing the papers later in the spring.

As a postscript, the Cabinet Office has released submissions to its Open Data Consultation here. I haven’t had a chance to go through them yet, but they include responses from the Ministry of Justice, the Information Commissioner’s Office, the Campaign for Freedom of Information, Creative Commons and the Open Rights Group – (and a submission by Lucy Series and me on legal data).

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This entry was posted in contempt of court, courts, digital open justice, events, journalism, media ethics, media law and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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